By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer
COVINGTON - They lobbied City Commission members, polled hundreds of households, shared tearful stories of discrimination, and in the end scored what they saw as a major victory for gays.
Gay rights supporters and dozens of sympathizers stood and applauded Tuesday night as Covington City Commission unanimously voted to enact a new, expanded human rights ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
Northern Kentucky's largest city modeled much of the language in the human rights ordinance after similar legislation in Lexington and Louisville. The new law went through numerous drafts after input from the public and Covington's business community.
"I think this sends the message that Covington is a tolerant community," said resident Dean Forster, co-chair of the Northern Kentucky Fairness Alliance. "It's diverse, it embraces its diversity and it wants to encourage all people to fully participate if they live or work in Covington."
John C.K. Fisher, Northern Kentucky field office supervisor for the state human rights commission, said, Tuesday's vote was two years in the making. He thanked the Rev. Don Smith, chairman of the Covington Human Rights Commission, and Covington Mayor Butch Callery for their positive tone and fair stance in what could have become a divisive process.
"They call Lexington, Louisville and Covington the golden triangle for business. I think this vote tonight completes the triangle for Lexington, Louisville and Covington so far as human rights."
Not everyone was happy.
Citizens for Community Values, a Sharonville-based anti-pornography group, wrote in a recent letter sent to 20,000 Covington households that the proposal to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity was unnecessary and would "normalize" homosexual behavior.
"Certainly, it's disappointing to see our government officials going in that direction," said David Miller, CCV's vice president.
Since January, Covington had considered expanding its 4-year-old human rights ordinance to expand the groups of people who would be protected and also ban discrimination in employment and public accommodations.
Covington already prohibits housing discrimination based on disabilities, gender, race, color, religion, national origin, family status and place of birth. The new ordinance adds protection for people over 40, and prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity, ancestry, and parental and marital status. It also adds penalties.
"I guess the basic question needs to be asked: Should we allow discrimination in our community?'" Commissioner Jerry Bamberger said. "The answer's, 'No, whether it's color, age, disabilities, religion or sexual orientation'....This ordinance does not promote or provide special rights. It allows the citizens of Covington to be treated equally."
Commissioner Bernie Moorman said: "For me this ordinance is a reaffirmation of the promise made to all Americans when they wrote their very sacred documents. In there, they promise life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness and that's what this ordinance is all about."
Across the Ohio River, gay-rights activists said they hope that Covington's efforts will prompt Cincinnati officials to review controversial legislation there.
The Citizens to Restore Fairness wants to repeal Article XII, which prohibits Cincinnati from adopting laws banning discrimination against gays, lesbians and bisexuals.
"I hope this sends a strong message to the region that diversity should be honored and that a city grows and flourishes when it protects the rights of all of its citizens equally," said Doreen Cudnik, a member of Stonewall Cincinnati's board of directors.
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